How to Low Bar Back Squat
The Low Bar Back Squat is a variation of the Back Squat, consequently the fundamentals the Back Squat technique remains the same.
It is not a different exercise, it is simply a variation of the Back Squat, that is the reason, why it is for me sometimes hard to understand, why there is this heated High bar vs Low Bar Squat discussions, searching for the answer which one exercise is better.
In my opinion, both Back Squat variations have its’ place and unique benefits.
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How to do a Low Bar Back Squat
Let’s have a look at the Low Bar Back Squat technique, the important considerations and technical key points of the Low Bar Squat form.
- The Low Bar Squat bar placement
- Low Bar Squat hand position
- The Low Bar Squat grip
- The Start position
- The Descent
- The Low Bar Squat depth or bottom position
- The Ascent
The Low Bar Squat bar placement: How to find the right Low Bar Squat bar position?
Whilst the High Bar Back Squat places the barbell high on the shoulders with a closer grip and results in the elbows pointing almost straight down and the forearms being parallel to each other, the Low Bar Back Squat places the barbell a little bit further down on your back, just on the height of the rear deltoids.
I really like how Stronger by Science puts the difference between the bar position in perspective in their article High Bar vs. Low Bar Squatting and that the difference is a mere 2 – 3 inches, which equates to 5 – 8 centimeters.
The Low Bar Squat hand position: How far or close do the hands need to be?
This lower bar position requires a wider grip, the idea is ‘as wide as necessary, as close as possible’ because you still want to have your upper back under tension to provide a solid platform for the barbell to lie on. I do like Dave Tate’s cue, that you want to provide stability on the back from all ‘4 hemispheres’.
Check out the take of Stronglifts take on the correct grip width for a Squat which pretty much opts for a happy medium between a wide hand position and close hand position.
The Low Bar Squat grip: Thumb around or not around?
There is a discussion, whether the thumb should be around the bar during the Low Bar Back Squat or whether to use a ‘thumbless grip’.
This is an advanced discussion and a fairly minor detail in my opinion, as this article aims to explain the fundamentals of a how to do a Low Bar Back Squat.
Once you get stronger in your Back Squat, that is something to look at.
How strong is stronger?
Check out the Back Squat standards, that I have outlined (you need to scroll to the bottom of the article).
How to do a Low Bar Back Squat – Start with the correct Start (position)
Now, that I have outlined the bar position, the hand position, and the grip, it’s time to get the movement started.
Since the bar is positioned lower on the back, one of the biggest challenges is to keep the bar in the right position without rolling down the back.
In the video, I am using a plastic stick to demonstrate the bar position and I am able to bend the stick since it’s a plastic stick. This is not possible with a regular barbell.
Really? A bit of a no-brainer, right?
However, it outlines that you should also try to bend the bar and pull the barbell actively into your back.
Another important consideration for the start position is, that due to the lower position, you need to have already a bit of a forward lean in the start position of the Low Bar Back Squat.
Whilst in the High Bar Back Squat you stand almost completely upright in the start position, you lean further forward in the start position of the Low Bar Back Squat, which has an influence on the descent.
As I just outlined, you stand with a stronger forward lean and you initiate the Low Bar Back Squat by breaking from the hip, which increases the forward lean even more.
After breaking from the hip you start bending your knees and push the knees out, it’s still a Squat, not a Good Morning.
During the descent, the hips move further backward and the knees bend simultaneously until the lowest position is reached.
Make sure, your back is straight, the chest is up and the head is aligned with your back.
From a side view, the bar path is a straight line down, the barbell stays aligned with the vertical line of gravity.
Moving away from that line means, you wouldn’t be able to transfer the forces effectively from the ground through the trunk into the barbell.
The Bottom position: What is the correct Low Bar Squat depth?
Due to the stronger forward lean and hip hinge, you won’t be able to achieve the same depth as in a High Bar Squat.
Depending on body dimensions, the Low Bar Squat depth is when the upper thigh is parallel to the ground. Some athletes are able to go below parallel, but that won’t be much below parallel.
Consequently, you need to work towards a squat depth, where your side of the thigh is parallel with the ground.
Characteristics of the correct Low Bar Squat depth are
- A forward lean of around 60 degrees back angle with the ground
- A knee angle of around 80 – 90 degrees
- The shins are almost vertical to the ground
Please keep in mind that these characteristics of the Low Bar Squat depth change slightly depending on size and body dimensions of the athlete.
However, regardless of size and body dimensions, your back is still straight, the chest remains up and the head is aligned with your back.
As during the regular Back Squat, the initiation of the ascent is basically reversing the descent.
What? What does that mean?
Let me explain.
You basically want to get out of the position, the same way you got into the position (just in a reversed movement order) until you are back into the same position as you started out (check the start position).
During the ascent, you want to maintain the same back position, head position with your chest held up, as on the way down.
A final word on the initiation of the ascent, a common cue for the initiation of the Low Bar Squat is to drive the hip or the so-called hip drive.
Which essentially means, you have to drive the hip up to get out of the bottom position of the Low Bar Back Squat.
Criticizing the Hip Drive – a question of semantics and interpretation?
To be honest, I would not agree with the cue of driving your hip up first.
Maybe it is simply a question of semantics or my interpretation of what a hip drive means, however, if you would drive your hip up to get out of the bottom position, you would essentially straighten the knees and end up in an almost Good Morning position, where your upper body is almost horizontal with the ground.
In fact, this movement of coming up with your hips and changing the relation between shoulders, hips, legs, and ground is one of the most common flaws you see in the squatting technique.
Consequently, I wouldn’t teach it, nor would I emphasize it.
Maybe my understanding of the hip drive is wrong.
Whilst I am fully aware, that there is a strong lobby promoting the hip drive, it still seems to be the minority, if you look at the grand scheme of things and observe and analyze, how the squat is taught in different countries and sports throughout the world and over time.
Again, I might be wrong, and I am happy to be corrected and learn more.
For everyone else who wants to learn more on how to do a Low Bar Back Squat, I suggest (next to the already above-mentioned articles):
Suggested articles on the topic High Bar vs Low Bar Squat:
Concluding How to do a Low Bar Back Squat
The Low Bar Back Squat is a variation of the regular Back Squat, which is characterized by a lower bar position on your back.
Next to the lower bar placement, the Low Bar Back Squat requires a different grip, hand position and different movement pattern, as the regular squat.
To initiate the movement you need to break from your hip.
The movement pattern of the Low Bar Squat is characterized by a stronger forward lean in the start position, descent, bottom position and ascent.